The ‘last-minute’ gig that saved my week

ON THE B-SIDE: Jonathan Barnes on Music

TUESDAY is a crucial day in the writing of this column. Possibly the most important. It’s the point in the week that it dawns that if I haven’t already thought of anything to write about, I’d better crack on (this column is published first in Saturday’s EADT).

Anything after that is bordering into “last-minute” territory, particularly as I’ve got to get round to actually writing it too.

So, as the Big T caught me on the hop again, sneaking up shiftily behind Monday, it was high time to review my week’s worth of music and avoid this column becoming a handy space to make your own notes or check if your biro is working.

With four days to go, though, I was still waiting for 850 words’ worth of inspiration to strike.

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Ideas? Well, I’d been meaning to write something about I’m In A Rock N’ Roll Band, the BBC2 “insight” into what and who makes a great group or, indeed, a group great. It does strike me that all that it has really told us so far is that singers are rampant egomaniacs, lead guitarists are shameless show-offs and that drummers are KER-AZY!! I expect tonight we will learn that bass players and assorted “other ones” usually keep themselves to themselves. But are very important, of course. Can you imagine the Rolling Stones without Bill Wyman? (Well, er, yes, actually). Not that it’s not enjoyable TV, of course, and there’s a starry line-up of wise talking heads (and Sting), but the bits that I have enjoyed the most have been Johnny Marr conjuring up the guitar melody to The Smiths’ This Charming Man and Jason Bonham, son of the late Led Zeppelin sticksman John, smashing out the drum intro to Rock And Roll. I’d personally prefer more of that, but I can appreciate that Musicians Playing Their Famous Parts Unaccompanied is probably an even worse idea for a TV show. Still, this is public service broadcasting to file under “Money That Could Have Been Saved To Save 6 Music” and isn’t worth more than the few paragraphs I’ve given it here.

What else? I have been enjoying LCD Soundsystem’s second album this week, but due to the fact the third has just hit the shops, I could be accused of being somewhat behind the times there.

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In my search for something to write about, I even sat through a dramatisation of Boy George’s early career on Sunday night. Waste of space? For my purposes, yes.

Just as I was about to give up and settle for reminding you how good The Beatles were or something equally insightful, something last-minute really did turn up.

Jeffrey Lewis is a New York singer-songwriter who treads an esoteric path. His laid-back, lyric-driven ditties have had some hipsters proclaiming him a genius. He’s the boy who got bullied at school, back with a guitar. And a sketch pad. And some poems. Jarvis Cocker is a big fan. He’s even been featured on The Culture Show, don’t you know?

There’s something very chaotic and DIY about Lewis and his assorted backing bands. He’s bracketed as “anti-folk” which basically means he doesn’t fit anywhere, and that even folk music, the last resort of the troubadour, won’t have him.

And he has the kind of make-it-up-as-you-go-along touring plans that leads to him playing a last-minute, free gig in a pub in Ipswich. On a Tuesday night.

I was very intrigued when I was told about the show, arranged with just four days’ notice by Ipswich’s ever-enterprising Uprock Social Club.

And, as other Tuesday-shaped plans got put off, children drifted easily to sleep and nothing else needed urgently doing, a window of opportunity opened for me too; I made the dash over to The Swan to satisfy my curiosity.

Lewis had brought his new band, The Bundles, and filled the support act slot too. Jeffrey Lewis and The Junkyard was essentially he same band, albeit with a different drummer.

What to say about Lewis? Where to stop? He’s fascinating. His songs are funny, neurotic, silly, sentimental. One was about sleeping in a waxwork museum, another was a gangsta rap parody about mass-murdering mosquitoes, delivered a capella. As you can probably imagine, it’s a fine line between irritating and ingenious. Lewis is far too strange to ever become a big star but his resolute oddness is definitely something to be celebrated, to be cherished.

But the best thing about the night was how busy the pub was, for a hastily-arranged gig. It was heaving, the crowd almost encroaching into the band’s space.

On a Tuesday night as well! As I walked back to the car I could have played a game of “spot the patron” in some of Ipswich’s more soulless, identikit bars.

No contest then. Lewis’s guerilla gig was the best thing that had happened all week. Just in time. A lightning strike of inspiration. Best Tuesday in ages, too.

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